Shortly after their arrival in New Zealand in the 1200s, Māori continued sailing over open seas, landing as far as the Kermadecs and the Chatham Islands. In 1777, two Māori sailed aboard Captain James Cook’s Resolution. Seventeen-year-old Te Weherua and 12-year-old Koa, from Queen Charlotte Sound, volunteered to act as servants to the Tahitian, Omai, whom Cook was returning to the island of Huahine. Te Weherua and Koa set off in the knowledge that they would never return. They were the first Māori to venture beyond New Zealand’s shores for many hundreds of years. Others soon followed.
By 1795, chiefs were sailing to Sydney aboard trading ships, in search of bartering opportunities. Other Māori worked their passage on European and American vessels. Because early European ships often sailed into the Bay of Islands, many Māori crew came from the Ngāpuhi tribe, who lived in that region. Not all Māori went voluntarily. Some were kidnapped or taken on as crew, then maltreated and even abandoned to their own fate in Australia or on a Pacific island.
Wiremu Toetoe and Hēmara Te Rerehau joined the crew of the Austrian frigate Novara in 1859, and sailed for Vienna. There, they met the Austrian emperor Franz Josef, and were intrigued by all that they saw. Te Rerehau wrote:
‘[Austria] is a very fine country, and the way people live is really excellent; the buildings are big and very tall. It is very beautiful inside the rooms, with lovely beds, excellent food and drink. And there are figures in the shape of lions and bears; their mouths are open so that water comes out’. 1
In 1806 a Ngāpuhi man, Moehanga, was the first Māori to visit England, where he met King George III. Hongi Hika, the Ngāpuhi chief, was among a group that arrived in England in 1820. He sought an audience with King George IV, worked on a Māori grammar in Cambridge, and obtained muskets in Sydney on his return trip.
Many Māori who visited England found it too cold. Preferring Australia’s warmer climate, a few made their way across the Tasman. By 1842 the Māori language could be heard spoken by workers on Sydney’s docks. And reports from the goldfields of Victoria in the 1850s put Māori among the multitude of people who were trying their luck.
In 1902 the first Commonwealth Franchise Act was passed in Australia, which allowed Māori living in that country to vote if they were already on the electoral role – a right not extended to all Australian Aborigines until 1962. As British subjects, Māori had easy access to Australia, but few took up the opportunity to go there. The 1933 Australian census records just 197 Māori.
Migration increased during the 1960s – the Māori population in Australia almost doubled from 449 in 1961 to 862 in 1966. These census figures may have under-represented the number of people with Māori ancestry by as much as four times, as Māori who were more than half European were identified as European. It is likely that in 1966 there were about 4,000 people of Māori descent in Australia.
Many early Māori were sojourners rather than settlers. In the early 1950s most Australians had never seen a Māori. This fact wasn’t lost on the entertainer Tui Teka, who toured Australia as a teenager with a circus. Billed as Prince Tui La Tui of the Royal Polynesians, he danced, sang, and played the part of the ‘noble savage’. He had other less glamorous daytime chores, among them driving a truck and shovelling elephant dung. Other entertainers such as Dalvanius Prime, Robbie Rātana, Rim D. Paul and Ricky May soon followed in Tui Teka’s footsteps, working the pub and club circuit.
In 1969 the young Māui Prime and his siblings formed a band, Dalvanius and the Fascinations. For 10 years they performed in cabarets in Australia and Asia. One story attributes Māui’s stage name of Dalvanius to a fallen comrade of his father Jack, who fought in the Maori Battalion during the Second World War. He is said to have died in the Italian city of Barletta, a name given to one of Māui’s sisters. Many Māori returned soldiers named children after wartime experiences.
In his later years Dalvanius Prime became a driving force in the campaign for the return of mokamokai (preserved Māori heads) held in overseas museums and private collections.
By 1986 the Australian Māori population had surged to 26,000. Many migrants were young men and women who had arrived in search of work following a downturn in the New Zealand economy. Māori were particularly hard hit by the closure of freezing works and other factories during the 1970s and 1980s.
Going to Australia was partly an extension of urban drift. After Auckland as the most popular destination many went to Sydney, Melbourne or Brisbane. Some Māori crossed the Tasman to work as shearers or miners in the outback. Partly because Kiwi shearers used wider combs than their Australian counterparts, they could shear sheep faster. This meant they were valued as workers, although during the ‘wide comb’ shearers’ dispute in the 1980s some Māori faced threats and intimidation. But for the most part, Māori were well received and developed a reputation as hard workers. As well as being especially prominent as shearers in the wool industry, they were noteworthy as stable hands or trainers in the Australian horse-racing industry.
In the early 1990s some estimates put the number of people with Māori ancestry living in Australia as high as 80,000. One Māori elder, Graham Anderson, predicted that by 2020 there would be more Māori in Australia than in New Zealand. Although such calculations had little basis, they did point to the dramatic growth in Māori migration from the 1970s onwards.
According to the Australian census of 2001, 73,000 people of Māori origin were living there. For every eight Māori in New Zealand, one lived in Australia. This made them easily Australia’s largest Polynesian group. Because Polynesians were not numerous in that country, Māori were often mistaken for Greeks, Lebanese, Italians, and even South Americans. As a result many wore hei tiki (neck ornaments) to indicate their ethnicity.
Miri and her husband migrated to Melbourne, then Perth. In both cities sport helped them to settle in:
‘When we moved to Melbourne we knew no one there. We were living in a little bed-sit, until we joined a rugby club and, next thing, different ones provided us with a TV, table and chairs, blankets and towels, and they’d even pick us up and take us to the rugby club because we had no car. If you have no money and no jobs, you’ll find work through a rugby club after a few beers at the bar. Then when we moved to Perth my husband’s first job was through the [rugby] league club!’ 1
Most Māori settled in Sydney’s suburbs of Waverley, Rockdale, Randwick, Bondi, and other areas which had mostly rental accommodation. There were also communities in Brisbane (especially Fortitude Valley), Melbourne, Perth and Darwin. Brisbane’s Māori community grew in the 1990s, and by 2001 its population was estimated at 19,000.
Some playful nicknames have emerged for Māori in Australia, including Maussies (Māori Aussies), Ngāti Kangaru and Ngāti Skippy. These names suggest that many Māori are in Australia for good. First generation Māori often intended to be temporary residents rather than permanent migrants, but children born and educated in Australia naturally felt a greater attachment to that country than did their New Zealand-born parents.
Like many other New Zealanders, Māori have travelled back and forth across the Tasman. Many make return trips to New Zealand for tangihanga (funerals) and gatherings held at their home marae. It seems that Māori who returned to New Zealand to stay were mostly family groups. The number of Australian-born Māori children in New Zealand rose markedly from 1,113 in 1986 to 2,934 in 1996. This did not mean that a higher proportion of Māori were returning from Australia; rather, there were now more Māori in Australia to return.
In 2003, elders in Sydney met to discuss the issue of repatriation of bodies to New Zealand so that people could be buried with their ancestors.
The myth that Sydney’s eastern beach suburb of Bondi is largely populated by unemployed Kiwis has persisted for decades in both Australia and New Zealand. It began in the 1970s and 1980s, when thousands of Māori and Pākēha moved to Bondi and found accommodation scarce. In 1984 the Bondi Māori Self Help Housing Group was formed. They moved into an empty council-owned property as squatters, but they were eventually evicted and the building was demolished. Most Māori had arrived in search of work, but not all found it: Australia’s unemployment rate grew from 2% in 1974 to 10% in 1983.
In the early 2000s the Ngāti Bondi touch rugby team played in the Sydney league, and on New Zealand’s Waitangi Day the Bondi Māori community holds an annual festival with kapa haka (traditional Māori performing arts) and other events. Even so, the perception of Bondi as a Māori stronghold exists more in myth than it does in reality. There was still a Māori community in Bondi, but in the 2000s more Māori, like other New Zealanders, lived elsewhere in Sydney.
Many formal and informal Māori religious groups formed in Australia. One of the most important was the Anglican organisation, the Māori Arohanui Fellowship. From 1984 to 1987 Archdeacon Kīngi Īhaka served as chaplain to Sydney’s Māori community. His arrival in 1984 was celebrated with a gathering in the suburb of Blacktown, attended by Cook Islanders, Aborigines, Mormons, and Rātana and Ringatū church members.
Te Wairua Tapu Church in Redfern is a cornerstone of the Sydney Māori community. It has hosted many weddings, christenings and funerals, as well as Māori language classes. The interior is decorated with carvings, paintings and ornamental panel work.
In 1986 about 22% of Māori in Australia spoke Māori at home. Older people were more likely to be fluent, while very few children spoke Māori – a pattern also seen in New Zealand at that time. The revival of the Māori language that took place in New Zealand over the 1990s has also reached Australia, and language classes now operate there. By the early 2000s Māori radio operated in Sydney.
The Te Arohanui Māori Culture Club was founded in Perth in 1977. Club member and weaver Wai Payne taught anyone who was willing to learn the traditional art of flax weaving. Because flax was difficult to find in Western Australia, she experimented with other plants and modern materials. On the other side of Australia, master carver Verdun Walker honed his skills and passed on his knowledge. In 2003 he taught a diverse group of youths from Sydney’s south-west to carve a canoe named U-Turn.
Sydney’s kapa haka (traditional Māori performing arts) group Te Huinga Waka has competed at the Aotearoa Festival since débuting in 1988. Much of their spare time was spent rehearsing and giving fundraising shows across Sydney so that they could fly to New Zealand and compete. By 2001 another group, Tupuranga, had sprung up in western Sydney, when travelling across the city proved too demanding.
Several players with Māori ancestry have represented Australia at rugby league. Sydney-born ‘Lord’ Ted Goodwin, whose mother was Māori, played for the Australian Kangaroos in 1972–73. On rare occasions some Māori have even played Aussie Rules – in the 1990s Wayne Schwass made a name for himself in the Australian Football League.
Māori sports teams occasionally tour Australia. In 2003 the Counties Manukau Māori under-11s side finished their Sydney tour with a match against the Sydney Māoris. Netball and touch rugby tournaments are also important events in the Australian Māori social calendar, and are often followed with a hāngī.
While many Māori league players based in England or Australia still play for the Kiwis rugby league team, there are signs that this is changing. By the late 1990s, rugby players such as Jeremy Paul were representing Australia, and league players such as Timana Tahu of the Newcastle Knights had made it clear that his ambitions lay with the Kangaroos, not with the Kiwis. Like Timana Tahu, many second-generation Māori are more likely to have allegiance to Australia than to New Zealand. As Jai Taurima, the Queensland-born Māori long jumper has said: ‘Obviously I have some feeling for New Zealand, but I’m an Australian through and through’. 1
In the early 2000s it was estimated that 130,000 people with Māori ancestry were living away from New Zealand. Although most of them were in Australia, about 18,000 lived elsewhere (England 8,000, USA 1,000 and Canada 1,000).
Even before Māori became known for their athletic prowess on the rugby field, their South Seas origins had fascinated the English. In the early 1900s touring performers of traditional arts received glowing accounts in the English press.
Not all entertainers returned home. Mākereti (Maggie) Papakura of Whakarewarewa renewed her acquaintance with an Oxfordshire landowner while touring England with a troupe of Māori performers, and married him in 1912. She had a New Zealand room in her manor, filled with feather cloaks, flax baskets, carvings, greenstone and other taonga (treasures). During the First World War she opened her homes to Māori troops. In this era war was the primary reason for Māori travelling overseas; a contingent served in the Gallipoli campaign, and later fought in France as part of the New Zealand (Māori) Pioneer Battalion. A memorial to the Māori war dead – an Italian painted wooden pietà on a base adorned with Māori carving – was built with funds raised by Maggie. Her book The old-time Maori, an account of the customs of Te Arawa tribe from a woman’s point of view, was published posthumously in 1938.
In the late 1950s a small group of Kiwis living in London formed the London Maori Club, promoting their culture through the performance of traditional songs and war dances. In 1971 the group renamed itself Ngati Ranana Maori Club (Rānana is the Māori transliteration of ‘London’). By the late 1990s the club was holding weekly meetings and language classes were taught at New Zealand House.
In the late 1990s Kōhanga reo (Māori language nest) member Taone O’Regan described London life for Māori:
‘We’ve got about 20 to 30 families with six to eight core families. I’ve always said I’d stay for two years. I’ve been here 10 – it gets harder to go back. It’s difficult if you have a British partner. Suddenly you’re a mother of a Cockney kid. Have you heard a Cockney trying to speak Māori? It’s all “Kia ora babes.”’ 1
Māori entertainers were drawn to the stages and concert halls of the United Kingdom and the rest of Europe. The most famous is the opera singer Kiri Te Kanawa, who gained almost overnight stardom following a sensational début as the Countess in Le nozze di Figaro at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, London, in 1971.
In the 2000s some Māori professionals were living in New York and California, yet the most prominent Māori community in the United States is in Utah. This had its beginnings in the 1950s, when New Zealand Mormon missionaries established the Kiaora Club. They came from many different Māori tribes, and dubbed themselves Ko Ngati Hiona (the tribe of Zion).
In 2003 the Utah-based New Zealand American Society was planning to build a marae in the city of Lehi. In Provo, Utah, a cultural group called Te Kaha o ngā Tūpuna (the strength of our ancestors) had also formed. In the early 2000s there were about 300 Māori families living in Utah – many drawn to the state by their Mormon faith, and the opportunities there for education and work.
In Hollywood, New Zealand Māori actors such as Cliff Curtis and Temuera Morrison have made their mark, alongside Lee Tamahori, who directed the James Bond movie, Die another day.
Children born overseas to Māori migrants can apply for New Zealand citizenship through their parent, or parents. But grandchildren of Māori migrants face the same restrictions as anyone else wanting to move to New Zealand.
Most Māori have left New Zealand either to serve in the armed forces or to find work, and these factors have dictated their destinations. There is little evidence that Māori have travelled in significant numbers to Polynesia (the home of their ancestors), or to places other than Australia, England and the United States.
Bergin, Paul. ‘Maori sport and cultural identity in Australia.’ Australian Journal of Anthropology 13, no. 3 (2002): 257–269.
Hogan, Helen. Bravo New Zealand: two Maori in Vienna 1859–60. Christchurch: Clerestory, 2003.
Joseph, Kelly. ‘Transient.’ In Huia short stories 5: contemporary Māori fiction. Wellington: Huia, 2003.
Jupp, James, ed. The Australian people: an encyclopedia of the nation, its people and their origins. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001.
Lowe, Jeremy. The Australian Maori population/Nga Maori ki Ahitereria: a demographic analysis based on 1986 Australian and New Zealand census data. Wellington: New Zealand Planning Council, 1990.